June 1, 2020

TecHRseries Interview with Maggie Kruse, Vice President of People Strategy at Nav

According to Maggie Kruse, VP of People Strategy at Nav, meaningful work and development are the two reasons people join or leave a company, and this is the biggest area of opportunity for employers. To catch some more insights and tips on HR and HR Tech, catch the complete interview:


Hi Maggie, tell us about yourself, we’d love to know about your professional journey so far.

I’ve led high-performing teams at companies of various sizes (from smaller tech start-ups to The Fortune 1) and across highly competitive industries (consumer goods, manufacturing, financial services and e-comm) throughout my career as an HR professional.

I’m a people partner that doesn’t rely only on “best practices” from the standard HR playbook, and instead thinks holistically about the employee experience while keeping pace with the future of work. I am best known for helping companies modernize their people strategy and find creative solutions to the toughest business/people problems. This is done by leveraging technology, data, benchmarking, partnerships, candid communication, and good judgment.

I thrive in environments that are fast-paced, rapidly changing, and mission driven where I can help a company build, grow, and scale. 

Read More: Have you Considered the Benefits of Virtual Hiring During the Covid-19 Pandemic?

What are some of the top culture trends you see tech firms trying to assimilate in their corporate environments? What are your top tips for building a more diverse and inclusive workplace?

The biggest trend I am seeing is flexibility around how we work. Companies are moving away from work-life balance and moving toward work-life integration. You are seeing companies flex to a work from anywhere culture. Open customization of recognition, learning, engagement and experience as there isn’t a one-size-fits-all model. Companies are becoming more agile and with that agility you need tools that can flex and move with your changing environment. Implementing pick your perk programs, where employees can tailor the companies offering to meet their needs. For example, if I need pet insurance and not people insurance I can use my bucket of money to pick the programs that fit my life.

The intersectionality on how we identify ourselves today is complex. People are no longer defining themselves by their title, gender, sexual orientation, race, or age. Which means our definition of diversity has to extend beyond physical characteristics to one that encompasses a culture of belonging. Leaders today have a social responsibility to ensure that our actions toward inclusion live in the conversations of our people and it’s no longer impactful to just make a pledge to a diversity website, post values on walls, or just declare that you have an inclusive culture. We have to shift our focus on teaching our teams to see through the lens of each other and seek to understand where others’ perspectives are coming from.

How can organizations leverage their HR-tech stack to drive better employee experience and engagement initiatives?

I have been around tech stacks long enough to know that there is no one-stop solution.  Your people’s needs are evolving so fast that as solutions become out of date, there is always something you wish your tech did better. When I am selecting software I always look at the data that I can get by using that solution. The analytics capabilities coming from the tech stacks I pick allow my teams to extract deep insights into the organizational health of our business, enabling us to be much more strategic with our programs and support.

When it comes to providing better experiences and engagement through your tech you have to think about who you are solving for and do that solution work for your end user.  I think too often HR will solve for HR, which I totally understand, but that is a short-term solution that will create more problems on the back end.  When we put our customers —employees — at the heart of the equation and we think about how will this solution make their life easier, more enjoyable, and have a positive impact that is when you know that you will have a durable product.

At Nav, we use a couple of products that help us support our employee experience strategies.  First we use BambooHR for our ATS. The interface they have when we are onboarding and hiring candidates is the best I have seen. It’s simple, easy to use, mobile friendly and customizable.

Our pulsing software is Officevibe. I really like the real-time feedback we get from our employees. I like that we know every week how we are trending in the 10 engagement categories. It’s a transparent tool for our employees, and if there is a concern the employee can let someone know and it can be addressed.

Lastly we use 15five for our communication, alignment, and recognition tools. This software is great. It really aligned with our view of how employees should be developed. It puts the employee in the driver’s seat of measuring their performance as well as owning their career development. Again, it is another transparent software system where we can get real-time feedback on who is doing 1:1s who is giving or receiving feedback, and how we are performing with our KR’s.

Read More: Keeping the Human Touch in a World of Tech Recruiting

How should companies stay abreast of the latest trends in the field of digital transformation? What would be the major reskilling activities you would suggest?

This is a great question.  I find it really hard to keep up with the HR tech landscape. For so long it felt like the tech coming out was not designed to disrupt the way HR was working. It was fraught with control, reports, top down management. As the future of work has evolved so has the HR tech landscape. I find the best way to keep up is to stay connected with other HR professionals, ask them what they are using, share with them the gaps you have in the tools you are using.  I have also started to ask the employees that work for my companies. They know what a good user experience is and it really opens your eyes as to what you should be solving for.

I also used to shy away from the sales folks that were trying to pitch me new stuff.  Now I make more time to hear what they are doing and what problems they are trying to solve with their software. While I don’t always buy what they are selling, the conversation around what is “broken” and why they are passionate about solving that problem is truly valuable.

Of course there are the usual ways, HBR, Fortune, Conferences etc.

One of the major reskilling activities I would suggest for HR professionals is to know and understand how your business operates — understand things like AOP, what your financial plan is, how the company is moving the needle on their KPIs. There are not enough good HRBP’s out there who can really translate the work they are doing to the impact to profitability of the companies. Strategy is another huge area that needs to be reskilled. I think HR is really good at making lists and solving problems in the fire. The thought leadership and strategic agility it takes to move a company forward is not often found in HR. This means you have to understand data, you have to know why you are doing the programs or services that you are doing, and you have to know what needle you are trying to move before you ever roll anything out.

Read More: Why Sustainability and HR Teams Should Combine Efforts to Achieve Real Progress

How important is it to assimilate corporate culture in the hiring process? What role is HR technology playing to make the process easier, can you talk about some examples wherein HR teams have used HR Tech to drive this and how?

Assimilating culture into your hiring process is dangerous, and I have found over the years that hiring managers think they are the best example of company culture so they end up hiring people just like them.  Which is how you end up with a homogeneous environment.  For example, in the tech industry the unofficial dress code is jeans, a T-shirt and some comfy shoes (often All Birds). When candidates show up in a suit, the feedback I have seen on the interview feedback slate is that the person doesn’t dress like us and therefore won’t fit into our culture.

Instead I would recommend that you hire to your values and company mission. Let’s say one of your values is grit, and you know that people that don’t possess grit don’t last long. You would want to ask questions like: have you ever had to juggle more projects than you had time for and how did you stay engaged?

This is where HR tech has made some huge strides. The way companies are leveraging AI to eliminate biases or help individuals find the right fit for their strengths and not just the job they can get because of their resume is amazing. I think we still have a ton of room to improve here but I am optimistic that we will get there.  

What are your top tips when it comes to talent acquisition and management? We’d love to know your thoughts on how Training and development can be seen as key to recruitment and retention.

I firmly believe that meaningful work and development are the two reasons people join a company or leave a company. I think this is the biggest area of opportunity for employers today.  Traditional career paths are quickly fading in the workforce as employees desire to forge their own way and build a personalized trajectory. I firmly believe that you should be in the driver seat of your future. Nav just launched a program called Choose Your Own Adventure. This is a  custom framework that focuses on growth through gaining critical experiences and increasing mastery. Employees are empowered to drive their own career journey and initiate desired career conversations.

Using a model like this will give you insights on the competencies that people want to work on, and what end goals they have. This way you can build custom training that really connects to your teams needs. I think training should be modular and can flex to meet the needs of your audience instead of trying to get them to flex the material you are teaching. There is nothing worse than going to a training that you are not ecstatic about.

Read More: TecHRseries Interview with Jeffrey K. Rohrs, CMO at Jobvite

Tag (or mention/write about) one person in the industry whose answers to these questions you would love to read, could you list some of your favorite leadership building books?

Caralyn Cooley

My favorite leadership books are the ones rooted in data and research.

I am a huge Cy Wakeman junkie. She researches drama in the workplace, and her findings are transforming the way leaders lead. I am also a fan of Brene Brown. he work she has done has made it safe for people to show up as themselves.

Nav was founded to have a meaningful impact on the lives of millions of small business owners by bringing efficiency and transparency to financial decision making. We are changing the way these business owners secure lending with our innovative technology and customer-centric approach.

Maggie Kruse is the Vice President of People Strategy at Nav. She has led high-performing teams at companies of various sizes, from tech startups up to companies like Jet.com and Discover Financial Services, and across highly-competitive industries including consumer goods, manufacturing, financial services, e-comm, and technology. She is a strategic business partner that doesn’t rely only on “best practices” from the standard HR playbook, and instead thinks holistically about the employee experience while keeping pace with the future of work. She has modernized Nav’s people strategy by leading significant change initiatives that impact organization growth, strategic priorities, and cultural transformation.

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Paroma Sen

Paroma serves as the Director of Content and Media at TecHRseries.com. She was a former Senior Features Writer and Editor at MarTech Advisor and HRTechnologist.

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